If you think King Kong is just a movie, think again.
The original King Kong, like so many other landmark films, had a distinctly racist theme. The first full-length motion picture ever made, Birth Of A Nation (1915), glorified the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. The 1939 classic, Gone With the Wind, pictured the South as a happy land where kindly white slavemasters looked out for their helpless, devoted Black servants. The first motion picture with sound was the Jazz Singer. It featured a white actor, Al Jolson, done up in Blackface singing the song “Mammy.” In fact, the words to that song, were the first words ever heard in a moviehouse.
King Kong (1933) tells the story of white adventurers who encounter a primitive band of Blacks who worship a giant monkey. They are seen offering up one of their young women as a sacrificial bride for King Kong. However, when they spot the blonde white woman in the adventurers’ party, they take her as captive instead for their King. Kong, smitten by her, is at one point seen taking off her dress with one huge Black finger.
Ultimately, however, he is captured by the white adventurers and brought to New York. There he is put up on a Broadway stage in chains. He then breaks out, pursues the girl, and wreaks havoc in the Big Apple, nerve center of America. He is eventually cornered, perched on top of a skyscraper. Here, the supposedly large and mighty Kong looks miniscule against the towering, white phallic symbol that is the Empire State Building. He is soon shot down by circling airplanes, and the iconic blonde white woman is saved.
The capture of Kong and his removal to America symbolizes the slave trade. Kong, in chains up on stage, represents both slavery and the chaining of the Black image in the media to minstrel-like stereotypes. Kong also is a symbol of the supposed danger of the brutally strong, but stupid, Black man who lusts for the white woman.
When King Kong was first released, the infamous case of the Scottsboro Boys, nine Black men falsely accused of raping a white woman, was all over the news. Ironically back then, however, it was the Ku Klux Klan that was ravaging Black women and openly killing Black men. Members of the US Congress at the time proudly announced that they belonged to this terrorist organization. It’s interesting to note that the words “Kill King Kong,” which becomes the goal at the end of the film, have the initials KKK.
The 1981 version of this “American classic” similarly, addressed the racial dynamic in American at that time, just as the version being released this Wednesday will subliminally speak to the “race problem” in America today.
( By Dr. Arthur Lewin, author of Africa Is Not A Country: It’s A Continent www.AfricaUnlimited.com )